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Former Ont. fire captain pleads guilty in wife's murder case

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Warning: Readers may find details in this article disturbing.

A former fire captain and father of two accused of killing his wife pleaded guilty on Thursday to second-degree murder.

James Schwalm was arrested for the death of Ashley Milnes one week after her body was discovered inside a burned SUV, crashed at the bottom of an embankment along Arrowhead Road near Highway 26 in The Blue Mountains.

Schwalm, the court learned, planned and staged his 40-year-old wife's death in January 2023.

Milnes was last seen alive on January 25, 2023.

In an Agreed Statement of Fact, the court learned Schwalm strangled his wife to death before dressing her in hiking clothes and placing her body into the car in the early morning hours on January 26, 2023.

The court document states he then drove the vehicle, with Milnes' body in the passenger seat, away from their Collingwood home, where their two children were sleeping, and plunged it down the embankment before setting it on fire using gasoline and a lighter bearing his initials, JWS.

Video surveillance showed a person, believed to be Schwalm, running from the crash scene, with a ball of fire visible in the distance.

At the time of his wife's death, Schwalm was a fire captain with the Brampton Fire and Emergency Service.

Ashley Schwalm was found dead in a vehicle on Jan. 26, 2023. (Ashley Schwalm/LinkedIn)

The Crown detailed Schwalm's deliberate and meticulous steps to cover his tracks, including, the Crown stated, sending text messages to himself from his wife's phone.

He told police his wife took the car to go for a hike that morning.

Still, investigators found cans of gas in the vehicle and Milnes' body on the passenger side, contradicting Schwalm's version of events.

Milnes, the court heard, had likely been dead for hours before the car crashed down the embankment and burned beyond recognition with her body inside.Former Brampton fire captain James Schwalm charged with second-degree murder. (Twitter/James Schwalm)

Investigators said they discovered Schwalm had been researching alimony, how to erase iPhone history and questions that suggested he was looking for a way to start a fire without leaving evidence of its origin on his computer.

The court also learned the couple's marriage was on the brink of ending. At the time of Milnes' death, the two had been married 10 years and had two young children, ages six and nine.

The courtroom heard Milnes' had an affair with her boss, which Schwalm learned about, and he went on to start a relationship with the partner of the man his wife had been seeing on the side.

Schwalm has been behind bars since his arrest on February 2, 2023. He is scheduled to be sentenced in September when it's expected he will hear the victim impact statements from his wife's family.

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